American Civil War Artillery Organization

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Artillery Organization

During the American Civil War, the artillery was organized into battalions, batteries, sections, and pieces of cannons with horses and men. The sizes of these groups are summarized below. The Artillery was a separate, specialized branch of the army that supported the Infantry. The basic organizational unit for cannons was called a battery, made up of four to six guns with approximately 70-100 men commanded by a Captain. There were many models and sizes of Civil War cannon, but there were two basic types--smoothbore and rifled. A smoothbore cannon barrel is just like a pipe, smooth on the inside. In contrast, a rifled cannon has grooves cut into the inside of the barrel, which forced the ammunition to rotate like a football. A rifled cannon was more accurate and had a greater range than a smoothbore gun. See also Civil War Artillery and Civil War Artillery Weapons and Characteristics.
"The third shell struck and killed my horse and bursting, blew him to pieces, knocked me down, of course, and tore off my right arm..." Pvt. Ezra E. Stickley, Company A, 5th Virginia Infantry
Commanded by Lt. Colonel or Major
3-5 Batteries
12-30 guns, 150-400 artillerymen, 50-300 horses
Primary Organization Commanded by Captain
4-6 guns, 40-100 men, 70+ horses
Commanded by Lieutenant
2 guns (+ limbers and caissons)
16 men and 24 horses
Commanded by a Sergeant
1 gun plus limbers and caisson
1 gun, 8 men, and 12 horses

Cannon Crew

Eight cannoneers are needed to fire field pieces. Five are at the gun--the gunner and cannoneers 1, 2, 3, 4. The gunner is in charge of the piece, he gives the commands and does the aiming. Cannoneers 1-4 actually load, clean and fire the gun. Cannoneer 5 runs the ammunition from the limber to the gun. Cannoneers 6 and 7 prepare ammunition and cut the fuses.

Civil War Artillery
Cannon Crew.gif
Cannon Crew Positions

Cannon Crew
Artillery Battery.jpg
Artillery Crew


Cast iron with no explosive. Used against cavalry, troops in a column, buildings and other solid objects. More accurate than shell or spherical case with a longer range.


Round, hollow projectile with a powder-filled cavity. Fused; exploded into 5-12 large pieces. Loud air burst terrorized troops and horses.


Spherical case
Developed by British General Henry Shrapnel. Hollow shell with powder and 40-80 musket balls that exploded in all directions. Fused; used 500- 1,500 yards. More effective than shell, but more difficult to manufacture.


Tin can containing 27 iron balls packed in sawdust. Tin can ripped open at the muzzle and showered the balls directly at the troops. Good for repelling the enemy at close range--50-300 yards. For more devastating effect, could be used in double load. Turned cannon into giant shotgun.


Principal Civil War Artillery Weapons
The cannon used at the Battle of Antietam were indicative of the principal cannon used by both the Union and Confederate artillery units during the Civil War. Because Antietam witnessed the greatest single-day loss in American warfare history, it is considered the absolute standard for studying artillery warfare.
More than 500 cannon were used at the Battle of Antietam / Sharpsburg, and, because of the destructiveness of these weapons, the battle was nicknamed "Artillery Hell" by the participants. The rolling hills of Sharpsburg provided a highly effective setting for the artillery of both sides. The numerous ridges made excellent locations for cannon. Meanwhile, the infantry of both sides made easy targets as they marched across low-lying, open fields nearby. Posted on the ridgelines, the cannoneers devastated the soldiers in the swales below them. The landscape and the heavy reliance on artillery by both sides made Antietam one of the most significant artillery battles in the Civil War. See also Civil War Artillery & Cannon: From Organization to Types to Projectiles to Battles.

Smoothbore Cannon

1841 Model Gun
•Fires 6 lb. projectiles
•Workhorse of Mexican War, but considered obsolete by Civil War
•Weight: 1,784 pounds
•Range: up to 1,523 yards
•Approximate number at Antietam:
Confederate: 45, Union: 0


"A converging storm of iron slammed into the batteries from front and flank. Wheels were smashed, men knocked down, horses sent screaming, to stay in the field was to sacrifice units needlessly."

Civil War Artillery.jpg

"The smoke rolled backward to the mountains... the destructive shot and shell were falling, it would appear, on every foot of land....I doubt not that at one time there was one piece of artillery firing at the hill to every five men we had defending it."

1857 Model Napoleon
•Fires 12 lb. projectiles
•Named after French Emperor Louis Napoleon III
•Weight: 2,355 pounds
•Range: up to 1,619 yards
•Approximate number at Antietam:
Confederate: 27, Union: 108


"A great tumbling together of all heaven and earth."

Civil War Artillery at Battle of Antietam.jpg

"A savage continual thunder that cannot compare to any sound I ever heard."

Rifled Cannon

Parrott Rifle
•Fires 10 lb. projectiles
•Named for designer Robert Parker Parrott
•Weight: 1,799 pounds
•Range: up to 1,900 yards
•Approximate number at Antietam:
Confederate: 36, Union: 42


"The air around us seemed to be alive with shot and shell from the enemy's artillery. The his seemed to have become an active volcano, belching forth flame and smoke."

Civil War Artillery Ready to Fire.jpg

"I could hear the bones crash in my division like glass in a hail storm."
"Shells burst around us, the fragments tearing up the ground, and grape shot whistled through the corn above us."

3-Inch Ordnance Rifle
•Fires 10 lb. projectiles
•Lightest and strongest rifled tube
•Weight: 1,726 pounds
•Range: up to 1,830 yards
•Approximate number at Antietam:
Confederate: 40, Union: 9


Try our internal search engine, type, for examples: Artillery, Artillerist, Artillery Engagement, Artillery Duel, Artillery Experience, Artillery Exchange, Artillery Battle, Gettysburg Artillery, Cannon, Cannoneer, Canister, Grapeshot, etc.

(Sources and related reading listed below.)

Recommended Reading: Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, revised edition (324 pages) (University of Illinois Press). Description: "Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War" is the definitive reference work for civil war cannon used in the field. Nothing else approaches its structured grouping and organization of the diverse and confused world of American Civil War field guns...detailed photos and illustrations.

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Recommended Reading: Confederate Artilleryman 1861-65 (Warrior). Description: This title guides the reader through the life and experiences of the Confederate cannoneer - where he came from; how he trained and lived; how he dressed, ate and was equipped; and how he fought. Insights into the real lives of history's fighting men, and packed with full color illustrations, highly detailed cutaways, and exploded artwork. Continued below...

When the Civil War began in 1861, comparatively few Southern men volunteered for service in the artillery: most preferred the easily accessible glory of the infantry or cavalry. Yet, the artillerist quickly earned the respect of their fellow soldiers, and a reputation for being able to "pull through deeper mud, ford deeper springs, shoot faster, swear louder ... than any other class of men in the service." Given that field artillery was invariably deployed in front of the troops that it was supporting, the artillerymen were exposed to a high level of enemy fire, and losses were significant.


Recommended Reading: Cannons: An Introduction to Civil War Artillery. Description: The concise guide to the weapons, ammunition and equipment of Civil War artillery; includes more than 150 photographs, pictures and drawings. While this might look like a simple kids book/pamphlet on the cover, there is far more inside this extremely well illustrated guide. The author does a fine job providing a wide overview of the most important cannons of the American Civil War, textual summaries of each and sufficient details of their fundamental statistics. Continued below...

The amazing part is how much the author has fit between a mere 72 pages. This work is very inexpensive and should prove useful to anyone touring Civil War battlefields, interested in Civil War gaming, reenacting, or curious about civil war cannons.

Recommended Reading: Civil War Heavy Explosive Ordnance: A Guide to Large Artillery Projectiles, Torpedoes, and Mines (Hardcover) (537 pages) (University of North Texas Press). Description: The heavy ordnance is divided into two sections: large smoothbore projectiles, and rifled projectiles. The smoothbore section is subdivided into: shot, shell and case shot; canister; and grape. Rifled projectiles are then subdivided into twenty-seven major types and one miscellaneous group. The general form of each entry is a brief introduction of a page or several pages about the type (Archer, Hotchkiss, Dyer, etc.) and then the following pages contain one to three images of each size and type of projectile of that type. Continued below...

The general form of each entry is a brief introduction of a page or several pages about the type (Archer, Hotchkiss, Dyer, etc.) and then the following pages contain one to three images of each size and type of projectile of that type. When three images of a given projectile are provided they are viewed straight on from top, bottom, and side. Some images of shell or case are half sections. Entries below each set of photographs provide diameter, length, weight, gun, sabot, fuze, rifling, rarity, provenance, and comments. RATED 5 STARS!

Recommended Reading: The 1864 Field Artillery Tactics: Instruction for Field Artillery (Hardcover) (404 pages). Description: This guide provides the most thorough explanation of how Civil War artillery operated in the field; definitions of all the equipment belonging to an artillery battery; explanations on the use of each piece of equipment; details for handling the horses; movement of artillery; and formations for battle. The illustrations show the gun, ancillary equipment, caissons and wagons, harnesses, ammunition types and how they are used, and emplacement positions. Includes all 39 artillery bugle calls. Continued below...

Written by a board of officers (the Artillery Board of the Army), this version is authorized for use in the training and employment of Union artillery. Also used by Confederate forces, the Confederate artillerist was trained on and used the identical equipment as the Union forces. In fact, they relied extensively on captured Union artillery for their training. It is considered the "official artillery and artillerist manual."

Recommended Reading: Civil War Cavalry & Artillery Sabers (Swords) (Hardcover). Description: The ultimate guide to sabers of the Civil War. This huge resource is easily the most important sword book written in decades, and is lavishly illustrated with 1,400 photographs, 60 of them in color. An important extra feature is that it also includes all sabers from the prewar period, right back to 1833. Every make and every known variation is covered with full history, tables and illustrations. Photographs include hundreds of close-ups showing the small features that tell one saber apart from the others. A truly groundbreaking work. Several photos not seen. Each photo is accompanied by a detailed description.

Sources: Antietam National Battlefield Park; Philip M. Cole, Civil War Artillery at Gettysburg, Da Capo Press, 2002; Dean Thomas, Cannons, An Introduction to Civil War Artillery, Thomas Publications, Gettysburg, 1985; James Hazlett, Edwin Olmstead, & M. Hume Parks, Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, University of Delaware Press, Newark, 1983; Monroe Cockrell, editor, Gunner With Stonewall, Reminiscences of William Thomas Poague, McCowat-Mercer Press, Jackson, TN, 1957; George M. Neese, Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery, Morningside Bookshop, Dayton, 1988; Norman L. Ritchie, editor, Four Years in the First New York Light Artillery, the papers of David F. Ritchie, Edmonston Publishing, Hamilton, NY, 1997; Jack Coggins, Arms and Equipment of the Civil War, Double Day & Company, New York, 1962; Mark M. Boatner III., "The Civil War Dictionary," David McKay Company, Inc, New York 1959.

Try the Search Engine for Related Studies: American Civil War Artillery Organization and History, Artillery and Cannon Photos, Photo, Photographs, List of Civil War Artillery Cannon Battles: Confederate and Union Artillery Tactics and Strategy; Army Field Artillery Gunner and Horse and Horses Picture and Pictures

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